In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Proactive Work Behavior

  • Introduction

Management Proactive Work Behavior
Sharon K. Parker, Zijun Cai
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0170


In the current fast-changing and highly uncertain workplace, it has become especially important for employees to actively anticipate challenges, identify opportunities, and take corresponding action. As a result, the subject of proactive behavior has received an increasing amount of attention among scholars in the past decade. Specifically, scholars have identified various kinds of proactive behaviors; investigated performance and, more recently, well-being outcomes; identified individual and contextual antecedents of proactive behavior; and considered mostly motivational mechanisms linking proactive behavior to outcomes.

What Is Proactive Behavior?

Parker, et al. 2006 defined proactive behavior as the self-initiated and future-oriented action to change the situation or oneself. Grant and Ashford 2008 similarly described proactive behavior as the anticipatory action taken by employees to impact themselves and/or their environments. Both highlight that proactive behavior is characterized by three key elements: it is self-starting, which means that it originates not from external instructions but from individuals’ own will; future-oriented, which means that proactive behavior is not reactive but involves acting advance of future situations; and it is change focused, which means that proactive behavior aims to create change rather than maintain the status quo. In a nutshell, proactive behavior involves making things happen. The topic of proactive behavior emerged out of earlier research by Bateman and Crant 1993 on proactive personality, a dispositional tendency to affect environment through creating change. A further foundational concept from Germany is personal initiative, summarized in Frese and Fay 2001. Proactive personality and personal initiative were initially considered stable traits, although both authors later recognized more situationally-specific and malleable versions of proactivity, as discussed in Crant 2000.

  • Bateman, Thomas S., and J. Michael Crant. “The Proactive Component of Organizational Behavior: A Measure and Correlates.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 14.2 (1993): 103–118.

    Introduced the idea of proactive personality as dispositional tendency to affect the environment. Developed a measure, distinguished the concept from other personality variables, and showed criterion validity.

  • Crant, J. Michael. “Proactive Behavior in Organizations.” Journal of Management 26.3 (2000): 435–462.

    Reviews the constructs of proactive personality, personal initiative, role breadth self-efficacy, and taking charge, as well as six domains in which proactivity has been studied: socialization, feedback seeking, issue selling, innovation, career management, and some kinds of stress management.

  • Frese, Michael, and Doris Fay. “4. Personal Initiative: An Active Performance Concept for Work in the 21st Century.” Research in Organizational Behavior 23 (2001): 133–187.

    Provides an English translation of research on personal initiative. Defined the concept and measures, summarized mostly German studies, and proposed an integrative model about antecedents and outcomes. Briefly discussed its relationship with proactive personality.

  • Grant, Adam M., and Susan J. Ashford. “The Dynamics of Proactivity at Work.” Research in Organizational Behavior 28 (2008): 3–34.

    Provided a comprehensive review of proactive behavior. Reviewed how it emerges in different literatures, defined the concept, and proposed a model about the dynamics of proactivity.

  • Parker, Sharon K., Helen M. Williams, and Nick Turner. “Modeling the Antecedents of Proactive Behavior at Work.” Journal of Applied Psychology 91.3 (2006): 636–652.

    Gave a clear definition of proactive behavior, discussed why it is different from behaviors such as extra-role behavior and contextual performance, and proposed and tested a cognitive-motivational model about drives of proactive behavior in the workplace.

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